August 8, 2010 in Nation/World

U.S. carrier welcomed to Vietnam

Ex-foes’ economic, military relationships growing
Margie Mason Associated Press
 

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON – Cold War enemies the United States and Vietnam demonstrated their blossoming military relations today as a U.S. nuclear supercarrier floated in waters off the Southeast Asian nation’s coast – sending a message that China is not the region’s only big player.

The visit comes 35 years after the Vietnam War as the U.S. and Vietnam are cozying up in a number of areas, from negotiating a controversial deal to share civilian nuclear fuel and technology to agreeing that China needs to work with its neighbors to resolve territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The USS George Washington’s stop is officially billed as a commemoration of last month’s 15th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between the former foes. But the timing also reflects Washington’s heightened interest in maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific amid tensions following the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, which killed 46 sailors. North Korea has been blamed for the attack, but has vehemently denied any involvement.

Last month during an Asian security meeting in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also angered China by unexpectedly calling on the communist powerhouse to resolve territorial claims with neighboring Southeast Asian countries over islands in the South China Sea.

China claims the entire sea and the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands over which it exercises complete sovereignty. But Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also have staked claims on all or some of the territory, which straddles vital shipping lanes and important fishing grounds and is believed rich in oil and natural gas reserves. Clinton announced that the U.S. has a national interest in seeing the claims resolved.

The USS George Washington came to Vietnam following four days of high-profile military exercises last month with South Korea aimed at showing solidarity following the sinking of the Cheonan navy ship. The drills enraged Pyongyang and drew repeated criticism from its Chinese ally.

A Chinese newspaper ran a front-page story last week strongly hinting that China also is not happy about reports that Vietnam and the U.S. are negotiating a civilian nuclear fuel and technology deal that could allow Vietnam to enrich uranium on its own soil.

The aircraft carrier’s visit is particularly symbolic as it floats off the coast of central Danang, once the site of a bustling U.S. military base during the Vietnam War, which ended April 30, 1975, when northern communist forces seized control of the U.S.-backed capital of South Vietnam, reuniting the country.

Relations have thrived since the former foes shook hands in 1995.

The U.S. is Vietnam’s top export market and Americans are the country’s No. 1 foreign investor. Two-way trade reached $15.4 billion in 2009.

Military ties have also grown since the first U.S. warship ship visited Ho Chi Minh City in 2003, including high-level defense talks and training.

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